NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees met with the media after Tuesday’s practice for the second straight week. An Irish assistant coach hadn’t met with the media during the season for years prior to last week, but it’s expected to happen throughout the rest of the season.
Rees was under fire for the slow start to the Irish offense in losses to Ohio State and Marshall. It wasn’t much better in the first half against Cal, but after a slow start, first time starting quarterback Drew Pyne settled in to help get the offense going. Rees shared some thoughts on Pyne and more of the offense:
Pyne Bouncing Back
Pyne was just 7 of 12 for 47 yards passing in the first half. The offense had almost as many punts (five) as he had completions in the game’s first 30 minutes. But the junior led Notre Dame to drives that resulted in three touchdowns and a field goal in the second half after the slow start (and Rees’s viral explosion). The offensive coordinator was very happy with the way Pyne responded to it all.
"That's a mark of playing quarterback, I think,” Rees said. "Obviously, we want to start faster and be ready to go right off the bat. You hit a couple of those plays early, you're probably calling a different game. We've got to continue to get him to feel really good going into the game and get him in rhythm and get him in rhythm with the guys. That starts to open things up a little bit. Drew responded like we knew he would and like I said last week, he cares a lot and he wants to be there for his teammates. He certainly responded and did that.”
Heat Of The Moment Evaluation
Win or lose, after every game, coaches and players sit down for film study to try to determine the ‘why’. Why did Pyne throw the ball short rather than on time? Why did he overthrow Michael Mayer in the seam? Why, why, why? It's all easier afterwards, when the heat of the moment has passed.
"Try to take as much emotion out of it as you can,” Rees said. “You try to fundamentally assess it. You watch those throws, we’ve got to do a better job rotating our upper body, get some shoulder rotation and not short arm and jab a throw. That's when you miss low on the run. That happened on the first play. And then it happened on the one to Mike (Mayer).
"So, we try to strip out the emotion of 'Oh, it's your first start. You can't feel your legs, you're nervous,' whatever it may be. No, like, what technically can we focus on instead of just focusing on the result. Just try to focus on mechanically here are some of the physical things that happened that got us to that point. And then obviously, as you continue to play and have experience under your belt, some of those nerves start smoothing out and you kind of get back to the routine that you're normally in.”
Why No Transfer Quarterbacks
Notre Dame brought in grad transfer Jack Coan last season and his experience provided dividends that helped result in an 11-2 season. With Tyler Buchner and Pyne at the top of this year’s depth chart, the Irish had only slightly more quarterback experience at the position than they did last year. So, why didn’t the Irish bring in another transfer to compete for the job this season?
"We certainly looked around,” Rees noted. "There's a lot of reasons why sometimes transfers work and don't work. To go through all the reasons why, probably a waste of time at this point, but it was something we looked into. It was something we had conversations about and with. For reasons in our control and out of our control, (it) just didn't happen. So that's that, and continue to press on and move forward.”
An Improving Offensive Line
The expectations were high for the offensive line coming into 2022, but the unit underperformed in the first two games. Things didn’t look noticeably better in the first half against Cal, especially considering the false starts and four consecutive three and outs to open the game. A corner finally appeared to be turned by the second half against the Golden Bears, as the Fighting Irish finished with a respectable 147 rushing yards and the ability to run the ball (mostly) at will.
"It certainly helps develop an identity,” explained Rees. "It certainly helps give you a call that you feel like hey, we're going to execute this and we're going to stay ahead of the sticks. It's a little bit of a safety net when you feel like you can do some of those things. We're going to continue to strive to get better there and the other spots and hopefully in these next couple of weeks, we can put the pieces all together, so it's it can be multifaceted, and teams have got to defend us in a couple of different ways.”
Can The Offense Get Vertical?
While Pyne finished with a 17 for 23 passing day for 150 yards and two touchdowns, none of his passes challenged Cal’s defense downfield. Pyne averaged 8.8 yards per completion on passes that were mostly within a yard of the line of scrimmage. What’s the next step to push the ball downfield more?
"Certainly, we had the vertical shot to Mike (Mayer) on the second drive (but) we missed it,” Rees began. "We had the vertical shot to Chris (Tyree) for the touchdown. You know, a little bit of it's always by team, Cal's a post high, NFL style defense, where they're going to keep a top on things. Seam balls can attack them, but like post, those type of deals, probably a little less an area of the field you try to attack.
"You have things in the game plan, and you’ve got to fill out the game flow a little bit and where your quarterback's at, when you call those, right,” Rees continued. "So, I think it's a lot of that stuff depends on the week of practice certainly, but then get the quarterback into a nice rhythm early and build that ability to say, Okay, we're going let these couple (throws) rip. We'll continue to attack that. And look, we're always looking for weaknesses in a defense and trying to expose those. And so, I felt like we had a couple of shots at it on Saturday, and batted 50 percent there and we’ll continue to try to add some of those.”
Running Backs In The Pass Game
Chris Tyree and Audric Estime both factored into the Irish passing attack more than they had through the first two games. They each had receptions up the left seam that totaled 57 yards. Tyree’s 21-yarder went for a touchdown, while Estime’s 36-yard catch and run set up his own touchdown run a few plays later.
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"There's specific locks, you try to take advantage of,” Rees said of the plays. "We had a nice deal to a pressure and a nice coverage deal with Chris there. Those are just part of game plan looks and things you prepare for during the week. When they work out kind of the way you hope they do, you're happy. You continue to try to find those nuance things that can help give you an advantage.”
Getting The Receivers More Involved
Irish receivers Lorenzo Styles, Braden Lenzy and Matt Salerno combined for seven catches for 53 yards Saturday, while the two running backs and tight end Michael Mayer combined for 11 receptions for 106 yards.
"That's certainly more about the flow of the game Saturday than anything about the wide outs,” said Rees. "That was more about what we were able to do and what we were doing well, and what Drew was probably comfortable with those moments than anything else. In his first start, we want to make sure that we were running things that he felt supremely confident in. And as we continue to rep and continue to get practice under his belt and make sure that he's ready to go.
"We'll continue to build the camaraderie and the timing with those guys,” Rees continued. "But that's more about game flow than anything else. We felt like we were running the ball at a high tick and had some easy completions to the wide outs in the flat and things like that. And we’ve got to continue to have them evolve and make sure we're doing things offensively to get the ball downfield.”
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